Report: Lithium ion batteries can catch fire during storage

Remember the Galaxy Note 7 that Samsung recalled earlier this year after some of the devices spontaneously combusted? Or how about the infamous "exploding" hoverboards from last year's holiday season?

In both cases, it was actually their lithium ion batteries that ignited. After many such instances, researchers started looking into just how hazardous these energy-dense batteries may be. It's not good news. If you're not careful, lithium ion batteries can spontaneously catch fire while sitting in storage. Not only that, but their presence can make other fires worse.

If you operate a retail store or any business where you use a lot of small electronics, consider that from the perspective of potential liability. If a lithium ion battery fire were to start due to negligent storage practices and customers were injured, the damages could be devastating to your business.

Understand the difference between batteries:

  • Lithium ion batteries pose a greater fire risk than standard batteries because they contain a flammable liquid electrolyte. Second, flammable vapors are released when the battery is damaged (as opposed to the mildly corrosive liquid other batteries contain).
  • Lithium ion batteries may spontaneously catch fire if they are damaged or stored in too hot of an area.
  • If an independent fire comes into contact with the batteries, the fire will burn hotter and spread more quickly than you expect.
  • The batteries may reignite after the fire appears to be extinguished, which could involve a new thermal runaway reaction and chemical venting.

Safety tips:

  • Be careful not to crush the packages or puncture the batteries and store them in a cool place. Mechanical damage and excessive heat are among the top factors contributing to fire.
  • If you can store unused batteries at a low state of charge, doing so could significantly reduce the hazard, although most batteries are shipped at least partially charged.
  • Used batteries can still contain significant electrical and chemical energy. Before recycling, put a piece of tape over the electrodes so they don't come into contact with other batteries' electrodes.
  • During firefighting, be aware that crushing or puncturing the batteries could undergo new thermal runaway reactions. Also, the area must be monitored carefully for rekindled fires.
  • Water is the best choice among easily available fire suppressants for use on these fires.

There's no need to panic about the lithium ion battery in your phone or laptop. If you routinely store large quantities in your store or warehouse, however, we recommend educating yourself on how to store them safely and obtaining legal advice when necessary.

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Steven H. Dorne

Attorney Steven H. Dorne

Attorney Steven H. Dorne is an accomplished lawyer who practices in state and federal courts in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He brings more than 30 years of experience and a long record of success to each case. His law practice is distinguished by careful preparation and thorough analysis of each case...

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